The Spittoon: the eminent corporate blog of 23andMe and Consumer Enabled Research

ceramicspittoonpictureThe personal genomics service 23andMe just launched publicly a corporate blog called The Spittoon that has been internally up for a few weeks. It is a new chapter in biotech corporate blogging. Just like the web page of 23andMe, The Spittoon’s WordPress blog platform, the concept and design is excellent: amongst others you can find scientific blog posts written by Matt Crenson science writer and posts written by founders Linda Avey and Anne Wojcicki in the name of radical transparency. As Wired fellow Clive Thompson wrote:

Radical forms of transparency are now the norm at startups – and even some Fortune 500 companies. It is a strange and abrupt reversal of corporate values. Not long ago, the only public statements a company ever made were professionally written press releases and the rare, stage-managed speech by the CEO. Now firms spill information in torrents, posting internal memos and strategy goals, letting everyone from the top dog to shop-floor workers blog publicly about what their firm is doing right – and wrong. Jonathan Schwartz, the CEO of Sun Microsystems, dishes company dirt and apologizes to startups he’s accidentally screwed. Venture capitalists now demand that CEOs be fluent in blogspeak.

Radical transparency could be standard in the case of Silicon Valley tech startups but in the Biotech Industry the standards are light years away from that. For instance the 23andMe research team communicates publicly on the biparental inheritance of mitochondrial DNA which is a sensitive issue concerning their genealogy service. The reason why Spittoon is so web-friendly and uptodate and is in fact a paradigm corporate blog for every other biotech company in the future is its web-based business model and Google-like corporate culture thanks to its networking background.

For instance, Anne Wojcicki co-founder introduces the concept of Consumer Enabled Research in her introductory blog post The Power of We:


Our goal at 23andMe is to enable individuals to form communities around shared interests and to empower those communities to be actively involved with research. We call it Consumer Enabled Research. We don’t just want communities to have a voice, we want to provide a platform for them to collectively aggregate their genetic information. One of the significant bottlenecks in research is the lack of data. Researchers and physicians rarely have enough of it to really understand a disease or how to treat it. Our goal is to change that.

After registration readers can make comments and I strongly hope that the comment system will not be shut down (just like in the past at BoingBoing), but for that commenters should be on-topic and moderate. I’ve just commented Wojcicki’s post, but I’d like to share it with you here too:

Anne says: “Researchers are currently limited in the projects they can take on because it’s expensive to recruit individuals, and funding is limited.”

Yeah, it is hard to recruit individuals for academic research and those individuals are usually paid for it.

For instance, here at Tulane University, New Orleans they pay us 280 bucks for a bilateral iliac crest bone marrow aspiration but with Consumer Enabled Research and the business model of 23andMe, the logic is reverse and that’s completely new: Consumers are paying 1000 dollars for donating their DNA for academic research. I guess they are informed that by spitting into the tube they are part of a big experiment.

One of my friend said that a closer analogy is donating free processor time but of course you don’t have to pay in that case for donating.

One thought on “The Spittoon: the eminent corporate blog of 23andMe and Consumer Enabled Research

  1. Hi there:

    My name is Stephan and I am a producer for German TV. I am researching a story on 23andme and I am looking for participants. People who have undergone the DNA test and would like to share their experience.
    If you are interested, please contact me at
    Thank you,
    Best regards,

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